A guide on Yama: the first stage of Yoga & its 5 principles

The first stage is Yama (ethical discipline) – the great commandments transcending creed, country, age and time. They are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing),  Brahmacharya (continence) and Aparigraha (non-converting). These commandments are rules of morality for society and the individual, which if not obeyed brings chaos, violence, untruth, stealing, dissipation. The roots of these evils are emotions of greed, desire and attachment. Patanjali strikes at the root of these evils by changing the direction of ones thinking along with the five principles of Yama.

The word ahimsa is made up of a particle ‘a’ meaning ‘not’ and the word ‘himsa’ meaning killing and violence. It is believed that to kill or to destroy a thing or being is to insult its creator. Men either kill for food or to protect themselves from danger. But merely because a man is vegetarian, it does not necessarily follow that he is non-violent. Violence is a state of mind. It resides in a man’s mind and not in the instrument he holds in his hand. One can use a knife to pare a fruit or to stab an enemy. The fault is not in the instrument but in the user.

ahimsa - AHAMSA

Violence arises out of fear, weakness, ignorance and restlessness. To curb it, freedom from fear is needed. To gain this freedom change of outlook on life and reorientation of mind is required. Violence is bound to decline when men learn to base their faith upon reality and investigation rather than upon ignorance and supposition. For a wrong done by others, men demand justice; while for that done by themselves they plead mercy and forgiveness. On the other hand, a Yogi believes, that for a wrong done by himself, there should be justice,  while for that done by another there should be forgiveness.

Along with Ahimsa go Abhaya (freedom from fear) and Akrodha (freedom from anger). Freedom from fear comes only to those who lead a pure life. Fear grips a man and paralyses him. He is afraid of the future, the unknown and the unseen. But the greatest fear is that of death. However,  a person is different from his body, which is a temporary house for his spirit. Though the body is subject to sickness, age, decay, and death, the spirit remains unaffected. To a Yogi, death is the sauce that adds zest to life.

There are two types of anger, one of which debases the mind while the other leads to spiritual growth. The root of the first is pride, which makes one angry when slighted. This prevents the mind from seeing things in perspective and makes one’s judgment defective. The yogi, on the other hand, is stern with himself when he deals with his own faults, but gentle with the fault of others.


satya - YAMA

Satya or truth is the highest rule of morality. If the mind thinks thoughts of truth, if the tongue speaks words of truth and if the whole life is based upon truth, then one becomes fit for union with the infinite. Truth is not limited to speech alone. When the mind bears malice towards none, it is filled with charity towards all. This does not mean to be tactless, but to always tell the highest truth. He who has learnt to control his tongue has attained self-control in great measure. When such a person speaks he will be heard with respect and attention. His words will be remembered, for they will be good and true.

The man firmly established in truth gets the fruit of his actions without apparently doing anything.


asteya - YAMA

The desire to possess and enjoy what another has, drives a person to do evil deeds. From this desire spring the urge to steal and the urge to covet. Asteya ( a = not, steya = stealing ). The Yogi reduces his physical needs to the minimum, believing that if he gathers things he does not really need, he is a thief. While other men crave for wealth, power, fame or enjoyment, the Yogi has one craving that is to adore the creation. Freedom from craving enables one to ward off great temptations.


Many people think Brahmacharya means celibacy, complete continence, non-indulgence in sex. However, this is not the correct meaning of Brahmacharya. Brahma means divinity, and achar means the way, the path. So to be a Brahmachari means to walk in the path of Divinity. Now to practise Brahmacharya, one necessarily must exercise some form of control. Now that control can be about eating, sleeping, can be about drinking, or the sexual act. Self-control in all things is the direction of true growth. Brahmacharya is the battery that sparks the torch of wisdom.


aparigraha - YAMA

Parigraha means hoarding or collecting. To be free from hoarding is Aparigraha. Collection or hoarding of things implies a lack of faith in nature and in himself to provide for his future. Letting go of all attachments to one’s possessions, including one’s body and being willing to relinquish them all at a moment’s notice. By observance of Aparigraha, the Yogi makes his life as simple as possible and trains his mind not to feel the loss or lack of anything. Then everything he really needs will come to him by itself at the proper time. The life of an ordinary man is filled with an unending series of disturbances and frustrations and with his reactions to them. Thus there is hardly a possibility of keeping the mind in the state of equilibrium. One has to develop the capacity to remain satisfied with whatever happens to him.

Sri Krishna promised to Arjuna ( as given in the Bhagavad Gita ) :

‘To those who worship me alone with single-minded devotion, who are in harmony with me every moment, I bring full security. I shall supply all their wants and shall protect them forever’.

Source: The illustrated light on yoga( BKS  Iyengar)


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